Medical treatment ‘not a deprivation of liberty’ Court rules

human rights

Life-saving medical treatment cannot constitute a ‘deprivation of liberty’ the Court of Appeal has declared.

The case concerned the death of a woman who had suffered from Down’s Syndrome and “severe” learning difficulties. She passed away in 2013 while in the intensive care department of Kings College Hospital, London.

The disabled woman had been admitted suffering from pneumonia and heart problems. Following treatment she had been on the verge of discharge when her condition suddenly worsened. In the Court of Appeal ruling, Lady Justice Arden explained that:

“She was in unfamiliar surroundings and disliked medical tests.”

After admittance to the intensive care unit, the Judge continued:

“…She was intubated and sedated. She had a mitt placed on one of her hands to prevent removal of the tube, but she was still able to remove the tube. Removal of the tube by Maria led to cardiac arrest, and Maria died shortly thereafter.”

The Senior Coroner for London Inner South determined that an inquest would need to be held, but not before jury. The women’s sister sought a judicial review of the latter decision, arguing that she had been deprived of her liberty under the European Convention on Human Rights and had effectively died while in “state detention”, a situation which requires a jury inquest under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The coroner, by contrast, insisted that the deceased woman had not been in “state detention” and this claim was accepted by the High Court. The sister appealed.

But, sitting with Lord Justice McFarlane and Mr Justice Cranston, Lady Justice Arden was unpersuaded, holding that the treatment did not constitute a deprivation of liberty under Article 5 of the Convention, because the same treatment would have been given to other people without the woman’s mental health problems.

Her Ladyship explained:

“…the root cause of any loss of liberty was her physical condition, not any restrictions imposed by the hospital.”

If the woman had been physically capable of leaving her bed, the hospital would not have stopped her, Lady Justice Arden continued. Therefore she had not been deprived of her liberty from a legal perspective.

The Judge concluded:

“There is in general no need in the case of physical illness for a person of unsound mind to have the benefit of safeguards against deprivation of liberty where the treatment is given in good faith and is materially the same treatment as would be given to a person of sound mind with the same physical illness.”

Therefore the sister’s appeal was dismissed.

Read the full ruling here.

Image by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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